Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, says Puck. And there we were, in a real forest a stone’s throw from Guildford High Street, transported by the Guildford Shakespeare Company’ magical (and hilarious) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a tale of young love (which never did run smooth, as young Lysander points out), dysfunctional marriage in the faery and the mortal worlds, trickery, sorcery, and the equally illusory world of the workers’ dramatic society.
Director Lotte Wakeham has set this production in Guildford, and the date is 1967, with all the fashion fun, timeless musical favourites (and some emerging feminist angst) that the sixties engendered! Oberon is a preening rock star with a huge ego, a beautiful brocade coat and John Lennon glasses; Hermia, the ‘pretty one’ of the four lovers, is a rock-chick in kinky boots. The mechanicals’ play is put on by the Dennis Factory Amateur Dramatic Society and the young people are all students at the new Surrey University (which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.)
These local references drew us very willingly into the play, and so did the actors’ frequent breaking of the ‘fourth wall’, as when a member of the audience is beckoned to hand Helena (the ‘plain one’) her crutches as she slips on the grassy bank up to the ‘stage’. Those crutches came to feature large in the quarrels among the lovers: as weapons, as wings, as defences – the business and the invention were endlessly comic! As Helena, Meghan Tyler was splendidly cross with the boys she believed were teasing her, and fiercely Celtic when she came to defend herself in the battle royal that Oberon stirs up among the young people.
Sarah Gobran as Hippolyta, the reluctant bride of starchy, arrogant King Theseus, and as Titania, has an excellent line in lip-curling scorn and beautiful floaty dresses. Ailsa Joy is a fiery, passionate Hermia, with brilliant dance and fight skills as well as great comic timing.
The Mechanicals, as always, steal much of the show. Matt Pinches is irresistibly comic as Bottom, whether officious at the drama rehearsal, confused and braying as Titania”s bewitched lover, or playing Pyramus in an outsized breastplate astride a furry hobbyhorse. His talent for rendering ordinary lines into side-splitting gobbledegook never ceases to surprise and delight.
Emma Fenney as Puck, Oberon’s tireless secretary and fixer, is a light-footed but down-to earth spirit, sometimes wrong-footed, forever perky, who holds all these worlds together.
This ‘Dream’ is a masterpiece of fun, invention and imaginative comic business,, all set in a world that’s new to most of the audience: the beautiful hidden depths of the forest behind Rack’s Close. If there are tickets left, go quickly to the GSC’s website and snap them up for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
This review also appears on the Theatre page of Essential Surrey Magazine.
Tickets at https://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/booking-start.php
A standing ovation in Woking for this fantastic, warm display of colour, dance and camp comedy with an edge of social comment!
La Cage aux Folles at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking
(Original farce by Jean Poiret; musical by Jerry Herman with script by Harvey Fierstein, 1982)
Directed by Martin Connor
The curtain at the New Victoria rises to reveal another proscenium stage, the gilt and crimson plush of the Cage aux Folles in gay Paris. And here come the dancing girls in all their ostrich feathers and satin glory, with legs to die for and energy and style that sets the mood of the evening. There’s a story, too, that blossoms in the second act into a moral parable for the times (one question is: just what makes a mother?). And in telling it, there’s high, raucous camp comedy, farce, and joyous celebration of love, life and diversity.
It’s a simple story: Georges and Albin are partners in life and in the Cage aux Folles, a successful Parisian drag club. Jean-Michel, Georges’ son by a previous heterosexual relationship, arrives home to announce that he wants to marry Anne, who turns out to be the daughter of an influential and prudish local bigwig who would like to close the club. Their ensuing machinations to try to solve the problem are hilarious.
John Partridge as Albin is certainly the star of the show, as well as of La Cage: beautiful, lithe (he originally trained as a ballet-dancer), with a singing voice of incredible range and purity, a talent for comedy and a way of working the audience that had everyone joining in and laughing with him. Partridge is a great partner to Adrian Zmed as Georges, in their scenes of pathos and tenderness as well as high comedy. A memorably camp comic performance by Samson Ajewole makes the character of Jacob both ridiculous and lovable: he got a special cheer from the audience on each appearance in the second act!
The high-kicking chorus, all at least six feet tall in their six-inch heels, are extraordinary: the costumes by Gary McCann are lush and the dance sequences are a treat for the eyes.
La Cage aux Folles was something of a landmark in the history of gay rights when it first appeared as a film in 1978 and as a musical in 1982. It’s full of double entendres but also of emotional and societal dichotomies, making the case for love of all kinds and between all genders, against prejudice and selfish unfeeling. The theme songs I loved best sum up the show’s message: Now is the Time, and I am What I Am.
Don’t miss it! It will cheer up your whole week!
This review will appear on Essential Surrey's theatre page http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts
The show is on at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, all this week until Saturday 10th June Book tickets here: http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-victoria-theatre/